FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Asante Samuel smiled as he stood at his locker and joked about missing hot summer workouts.
Repeatedly saying he was happy his contract holdout was over -- a one-year, $7.79 million salary may have brightened his mood -- the Patriots cornerback was eager to practice with his teammates who had been in training camp for a month.
He wants to build on last season -- the best of his first four since New England drafted him in 2003 -- when he tied Champ Bailey of Denver for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and picked off two more passes in the playoffs.
"I've been a competitor since I was born. Everything I do I want to be the best at," Samuel said Tuesday. "I want to leave a legacy. I want Asante Samuel to be a stone in the NFL when I leave this game. I'm going to work hard and leave it out on the line and make plays like I know how to make plays."
About an hour later, he wasn't on the field at practice for the first 15 minutes when reporters were allowed to observe. There was no word about whether he came out later, although he had to pass a conditioning test first.
The Patriots received a temporary roster exemption for Samuel then got down to the 75-man limit by Tuesday's deadline by placing wide receivers Troy Brown and Chad Jackson and cornerback Eddie Jackson on the physically unable to perform reserve list, releasing offensive lineman Chris Patrick and putting rookie defensive back Mike Richardson on the injured reserve list with a hand injury, sidelining him for the season.
Samuel arrived in the area Sunday night and took his physical Monday when contract details were being finalized. No details were released on whether the Patriots gave up their right to designate him as a franchise player again next year.
By making him their franchise player after last season, the Patriots prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. But they were committed to paying him the average salary of the top five players at his position. Samuel wanted a long-term contract, but it wasn't worked out before July 17, the deadline for such deals until after the season.
He originally said he would sit out the first 10 weeks of the season.
"No, I don't have any regrets" about the holdout, he said. "I did what I felt I needed to do and I'm ready to play football."
Samuel, who worked out on his own, likely will return to the starting spot that Randall Gay has been filling in training camp.
"I'm sure that he'll work hard to make up that ground," coach Bill Belichick said. "They've been here practicing and doing all of the things they do. I know he's been doing things on his own, but it's not quite the same."
Samuel also must deal with any negative reaction from fans for staying away from a strong team of which he is a key part.
"That comes with the territory," he said. "A lot of people go through these situations where sides don't agree on things and they hold out for whatever reason. I mean, my name was thrown out here and there in a negative way. That doesn't really matter to me."
Or, apparently, to his coach.
"I'm glad he's here. I'm glad we got things worked out," Belichick said.
The Patriots drafted Samuel in the fourth round out of Central Florida. He started all 15 games in which he played the past two regular seasons. Last season he returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave New England a 21-3 lead in the AFC championship game in Indianapolis.
But the Colts won 38-34, depriving the Patriots of a shot at a fourth Super Bowl title in six years.
The possibility of returning to that game is enticing to Samuel.
"I love my team. It's always been a great organization," he said. "It's always had great fans, great players, great coaches. We've been doing well since I've been here so I'm glad to be here and I'd love to be here for the rest of my career."
Unlike wide receiver Deion Branch, who was traded to Seattle when he held out last summer, Samuel has a chance to do that with his new deal.
"Both sides had to agree to it. There's no winner and no loser. We got it done and I'm here," he said. "If I'm here, I'm obviously happy."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.